‘Do The Work’ – On Finding What Works, and Working Through Mental Illness

Sometimes I pretend that the steady stream of cars and buses on the busy, non-stop main road that runs right outside the house I’m currently living in is actually the sound of the ocean.
If I close my eyes and imagine hard enough, distance myself fully from the missing factors – salty air, a sea breeze, sand in nooks and crannies you don’t even know exist until there’s sand in them – it’s actually quite easy.

Caught between the need to create and the compulsion to propagate, sometimes these thoughts and other wild-but-tame ideas don’t go very much further than this. Imagining I’m actually in a tropical ‘paradise’ and not sitting mid-hurricane (or so they’re calling it) on a dreary day in Dublin might seem fairly fruitless, and yet to me it means that the course of inner exploration and healing work I’ve been on for the past 2 years or so now seems to be directly on course to succeed.
Depending on what ‘succeeding’ means to you.
To me, all it means is that at the moment, I’m balanced enough to allow my creativity to be put to good use instead of eating me up with incessant anxious thoughts or worries about things that happened yesterday or that might not happen tomorrow. It just means I’m pointed in the right direction for the next few hours.
And that is all I ever can hope to maintain.
(I also say ‘paradise’ in inverted commas here as I’m a firm believer that ‘paradise’ does not exist in one physical place, rather being a state of mind consisting of the right balance of factors, both internal and external, that at any given moment combine to give us an intense sensation of ease and wellbeing. But more on that later.)

What is ‘The Work”?

‘The work’, as I’ve put it here, is not merely a form of required duties, household help or course of up-skilling that most of us have come to associate with the word today.
The work can mean a variety of things to different people, and it takes a while to figure out what that is for you.
For me, ‘the work’ was the process by which I eased my anxiety for the first time. The work was that which helped me understand my own mind, helped me figure out exactly what makes me tick, why I am the way I am, why I’ve done the things I’ve done, felt the way I’ve felt and proceeded on the course I’ve taken in my 25 years up until now. The work is something which still helps me do this. Whether or not some of those decisions were good or not, the work, mywork, has just helped me understand it all. It helped me become conscious of my actions. I won’t list exactly what ‘my work’ involved, because it’s not just any one thing, and it’s not easy work either. It’s the tough stuff, it’s dealing with whatever life throws us, circumstantial or otherwise, and becoming accountable for it instead of ignoring it or hoping it will go away.
It’s a combination of things, which when engaged with over time and through the ups and downs of everyday life and work and relationships helps us to figure out how to implement them on any given day.

Simply put, I became aware of my needs, I became honest with myself about what was and wasn’t working, and then dedicated myself to slowly but surely adhering to what works as much and as frequently as I can.

Disclaimer:
Before going any further I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone I may have encountered during the course of this ‘work’ – anyone I may have misled, confused, hurt, hindered, irritated or in any way just bothered by being the way I am and neglecting social norms or expectations with this intense need to figure shit out or do things the way I needed to in whatever way it presented itself at that time. It wasn’t you. Really. It still isn’t.

It’s one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done and yet I uphold firmly that taking time for myself, not just one time that I was feeling particularly bad, but over and over again choosing to put my health first and to investigate the feelings I was having is the only way I’m still sitting here today to write this.
The terror and fluctuating levels of distress surrounding mealtimes, the general consistent low moods or occasional soaring heights of elation and 2am dance moves surpassed by none were all extremes that I was so used to inhabiting that any alternative middle ground seemed like an unattainable – for want of a better word – ‘paradise’.
For anyone who has any experience dealing with or trying to help someone with any mental illness, you’ll know that the intensity and details of these highs, lows, and panics in between can vary from person to person, and so it can be difficult to pinpoint what will or will not help in each instance.

Doing the Work

The work required to haul oneself out of said lows, down from these intense highs of bliss and misfitting euphoria, all at completely irrational things is not the kind of work you do once, and then it’s done. Oh no.
This work is something you must do Every. Single. Day. 

When I started thinking of it more in terms of an actual responsibility, rather than a chore or something to be rewarded for, only then did I started noticing results.
I was responsible for my own mind, my own body, where it went and what it did and what it ate, who it interacted with, and how. On no one else’s shoulders was it if I did or said something I’d regret, ate something that didn’t agree with me or damaged myself in any way.
The work I was doing was keeping this all in check, staying hyper-aware of everything, editing and refining and re-routing whenever something felt off or when I noticed the sly familiar onset of bad thoughts and sneaky triggers that used to go unnoticed. It was so particular that I almost went to the extreme of over-doing the work, which I guess is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just in my nature – the blessing being that I realised and pulled myself up on this when it happened.

Results???

Because the results were not spectacular – they weren’t jump-in-the-air, high-five oh-my-god-look-at-me kind of results – I didn’t initially pay much heed. Because I was used to this immediate and intense end-result, the balance I was feeling honestly felt…boring.
Gradually I began to notice however that the middle ground, this place of feeling ‘actually kind of alright’ instead of ‘omfg I’m fucking DELIRAH’ or ‘I want to disappear’ kind of shite, was so much more sustainable. Not only that, but noticing that when I was in this state, everything seemed to just fall into place and work so much easier – work, friends, family, creative stuff, fun – whatever it was, everything responded positively to this balanced frame of mind, instead of the irrational, eccentric and anxious me that nobody really knew what to do with except hug and pour tea for and promise everything would be fine.

Try. Fail. Edit. Fine-Tune. Repeat.

Editing and fine-tuning your life, mind and environment to fit whatever works for you is the only advice I have to anyone currently attempting to overcome any kind of mental illness or maintain positive mental health in the face of life’s challenges.
Thinking of yourself independently of anyone else – taking advice and help, definitely – but not assuming it as fact or convincing yourself of its truth until you’ve proven it works for your unique set of circumstances.
Know yourself. Figure out what you like, what makes you feel GOOD, what makes you THRIVE.
Take a day, take a week, take a month. Try things, fail spectacularly. Try something else, maybe don’t fail so badly. Keep trying until something clicks – and I promise you, if you’re self-aware enough to know and follow up on something big needing to change – something will.
This process, these trial and error and ups and downs and pushing through pain and confusion and trusting that something positive is at the end of it all – this is the work.

This is what it means to be trying, to be living, to be constantly editing and refining our lives and thoughts like we redirect unpredictable and mischievous kids away from dangerous river banks or running out on the road.
It’s a constant, unwavering necessity that we must remain on top of even at the best of times, and it all boils down to self-awareness and knowing yourself, recognising triggers or runaway thoughts when they start to play mental movies or imagine unlikely scenarios or pretend that the cars you’re hearing are actually waves on a beach a thousand miles away…you get what I’m trying to say.
Pull yourself up on it.

Self-Awareness

My particular combination of ‘work’ (even a glance at this blog might give you an inkling as to some of what it involved for me *cough* yoga *cough* writing *cough*) will more than likely not suit anyone else exactly. Just as someone else’s course of action wouldn’t have worked for me. I just followed the positive stuff, whatever that was, wherever I could, and did it as much and as often as it felt right to.  I still do. Staying aware, staying alert, re-routing whenever signs of the ‘fuzzy head stuff’ (as I like to call it) surface and just knowing that all it takes is a little bit of concentration, time and awareness ’til the next move or feeling becomes clear.

Creating my own sense of rational ‘paradise’ in every day is how I see the balancing out of this tendency of mine to overthink, to worry, and to believe the negatives. Maintaining balance and using it as a foundation to move forwards and continue building on what I’ve already worked for is how I see myself now, and I just wanted to share a little bit about what worked for me to help anyone struggling to see past what might seem like a mountainous road of ‘work’ ahead – baby steps.
Start by just turning inwards. Forget about the external stuff – other people, expectations, comparisons and past events – even this is part of the work. Everything is part of it. Everything is important, and don’t ignore or belittle any aspect of what you have to bring to the table because I promise you – the world needs it. The world needs all the self-awareness and positivity it can get right now, and that boils down to each individual playing their part right, using their unique talents and passions and more importantly, believing in them.
Focus inward, focus on you, and the rest has a funny way of falling into place.

Do the work. It’s worth it.

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Grey Matter

Grey Matter

For what it’s worth,
I can’t think of anything more vibrant,
More techni-coloured, spirit-soaring, smile-inducing and bright, than
Freeing yourself from the box-room cosy complex
That nothing you do will ever amount to anything.

Because it’s the easiest thing in the world
To do nothing.
It’s the easiest thing in the world
To let the greyness win.
Surrendering. Submitting.
Settling for a semi-faded filter,
When all your life your soul chose bold.

Deserving something, should not be a question.
Looking to others for an answer, losing ourselves to find
A pre-determined one?
No.
You have the answer already.
The greyness comes along to fool you.
Fight it. Go and do the thing
You have convinced yourself nobody will notice.
Because you’re right –
Nobody will notice.
The mental struggle it takes –
To put on socks.
The wide-eyed forehead-creasing terror
Of answering the phone
“HELLO? YES THIS IS HER.”

…and gradually, you smile.
Connection. Communication.
That’s what kills the greyness.
The belief that despite your reservations
And pale skin
And ginger hair
And natural disposition to think it doesn’t matter anyway
 – The colours do suit you after all.

10 Yoga Retreats for Adventure Addicts

10 Yoga Retreats for Adventure Addicts

(-by Octavia Drughi)

If you’re anything like me, then you probably have trouble staying in one place for too long and repeating the same patterns day after day. It’s easy to get stuck in a routine. As a yoga practitioner with itchy feet, I often find myself struggling to create a balance between the static and dynamic movements in my exercises as well as in my everyday life.

yoga retreat isn’t all about the poses – it can be an adventure-packed holiday that can teach you to listen to your body and get in touch with your inner self. After all, is there any better way to keep track of our progress than by pushing our limits, both mentally and physically? If you too are considering changing your approach, look no further! The team at BookYogaRetreats.com has put together a list of adventure yoga retreats that will inspire you to take the bull by its horns and finally surrender to your senses.

 

  1. Five-Day Budget Climbing and Yoga Retreat in Portugal

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Climbing in Sintra, Portugal (Courtesy of sintraclimbingtours.com)

Join a community of outdoor enthusiasts in the mystical forests and hills of Portugal’s Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, near the world-class surfing destination of Praia Grande. The surroundings provide the perfect backdrop against which yoga and outdoor adventure will help you clear your mind and let go of your worries.

Embark on this five-day adventure yoga retreat in Portugal and enjoy daily yoga classes and climbing courses on an active holiday! Within a 30-mile (50 km) radius, there are 40 climbing spots to explore, all in the safe hands of certified instructors. The retreat is excellent for beginners taking their firsts steps outside the climbing gym, as well as for those who simply want to improve their technique and spice it up with yoga and meditation.

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Besides climbing, there are plenty of optional outdoor activities to choose from – surfing, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, stand-up paddle boarding and a one-day trip to Lisbon
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  1. Eight-Day Snow, Outdoor and Yoga Retreat in Austria

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This snow, wellness and yoga retreat in the heart of the Austrian Alps combines skiing and snowboarding with Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa yoga, Yin yoga and AcroYoga. Not to mention there’s a Thai massage class included!

A cozy farmhouse with open fireplaces, indoor climbing gym and wellness area will be your home. DIGGL Climbers and Freeride Farm in the mountain village of Ginzling in Tyrol offers just about anything nature and adventure addicts could ask for thanks to its vicinity to numerous trails and hiking routes. During your eight-day stay, you will learn about snow conditions and avalanche safety, while freeriding with a mountain guide.

 

  1. Four-Day Mountain Activities and Yoga Retreat in France

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Perfect for a long weekend getaway, a traditional alpine lodge in the Alpine town of Morzine in southeastern France welcomes outdoor lovers with plenty of land and water-based activities. Daily morning Vinyasa yoga sessions and mindfulness workshops will prepare you for an active day.

The highlights of this four-day yoga retreat in France are the stand-up paddle board yoga classes and the guided mountain treks. The home-cooked vegetarian menu with morning superfood smoothies is definitely worth a mention. Plus, there are plenty of activities, included and optional, to help you get the best out of the great outdoors of the French Alps – kayaking, snowboarding and skiing, picnic by an alpine lake and walks along the Morzine River.

 

  1. Six-Day Adventure and Yoga Retreat in Croatia

 

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Great for couples where one is into yoga and the other is into adventure sports, this six-day adventure and yoga retreat in Croatia will teach you about Five Elements yoga in a unique way. Located in between the historical center of the picturesque city of Rovinj and the scenic beaches of the Istria peninsula, the Five Elements Guesthouse will be your home away from home.

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Learn about 
five elements yoga with daily morning asanas and meditation. Each day, extend your knowledge by getting closer to each element. On Earth day there will be hiking tours and cave explorations. Air day will feature windsurfing. Fire day brings you biking tours and campfire gatherings. Water day will take you on a kayaking tour of the Rovinj islands. Last but not least, yoga and meditation will be the main focus on spirit day.

 

  1. Eight-Day Mountain Biking and Yoga Retreat in Slovenia

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Mountain biking in Slovenia – Photo by Darko Pevec

What do yoga and mountain biking have in common? How about balance, focus, determination and continuous movement? Stay in a chalet in the town of Luče in northern Slovenia, near the Austrian border, a one hour’s drive from capital Ljubljana. Explore the surroundings on daily mountain biking tours through the Slovenian Alps and return home a better you!

This eight-day mountain biking and yoga retreat in Slovenia is bound to relax your mind and rejuvenate your spirit. The morning yoga session will warm you up for the mountain biking ride ahead. And as there’s only so much excitement we can handle in one day, afternoon yoga classes come to our rescue to ease our spirits, relax our muscles and create an ambiance in which we can reflect upon our day.

 

  1. Eight-Day Rock Climbing & Ashtanga Yoga Retreat in Spain

 

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DWS in Mallorca – Photo by Craig Hiller

A 13th-century mansion overlooking the beach will be your home throughout this eight-day climbing & Ashtanga yoga retreat in Mallorca. Kept by the same family throughout the centuries, the medieval lodge offers first-rate bedrooms, a lovely yoga room, swimming pool, large terrace and two living rooms with fireplace.

Considered Europe’s best Deep Water Solo (DWS) destination, Mallorca is a world-class climbing venue with routes of every grade and style. Deep Water Solo, also known as Psicobloc, is a form of rock climbing practiced above a body of water that is deep enough and without any obstacles (e.g. submerged rocks) to support a big plunge. The climber uses no rope or safety equipment, just a pair of climbing shoes and chalk. Any fall is cushioned by the water beneath. The retreat’s rock climbing classes will be held by renowned climber and DWS pioneer Miquel Riera.

 

  1. Eight-Day Patagonia Yoga Retreat and Outdoor Adventures

 

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What makes a perfect retreat? A bunch of things – teachers, location, fellow participants and outdoor activities, just to name a few. Make each day a special day with this eight-day yoga and outdoor adventure retreat in Chile. Spend the first night in Punta Arenas, the capital of Chile’s southernmost region, and the rest in EcoCamp Patagonia, in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park.

The camp’s geodesic domes are set in the middle of Patagonia’s wilderness and are an excellent starting point for a number of one-day walks. Participants will hike to Milodon Cave, Grey Glacier, Lazo Weber and Towers Base. They will mountain bike to Lagna Azul. There will be daily yoga and meditation sessions, as well as optional trips, including a visit to the neighboring port town of Puerto Natales.

 

  1. Eight-Day Rock Climbing and Yoga Retreat in Greece

 

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Climbing Leonidio, Greece (Courtesy of UKClimbing.com)

Learn to overcome your fears through meditation and rock climbing! This eight-day climbing and yoga retreat in the Peloponnese is more than a getaway, it is a journey of self-discovery. The road trip will take you along the Peloponnesian coastline to visit some of the best climbing spots in the area. Are you a beginner, or do you wish to brush up your climbing skills? Everyone’s invited!


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Climbing Leonidio, Greece (Courtesy of UKClimbing.com)

Just like yoga, rock climbing is a communion between body and mind. The stronger the connection, the better the results. Throughout your stay, daily Hatha yoga sessions will help improve your balance and focus. Rock climbing sessions at the crags near the bohemian towns of Nafplio and Leonidio, as well as at the recently developed crags in the seaside village of Kyparissi, will teach you to calm down and learn to focus on your goals.

 

  1. Eight-Day Empowerment Adventure Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica

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Located right outside of the small city of La Fortuna, at the foothills of the Arenal Volcano, the eco-friendly Hotel Kokoro’s cottages and wooden cabins are surrounded by volcanoes, lagoons, hot springs and waterfalls. It seems like too much to do and too little time in just eight days, but this adventure yoga retreat in Costa Rica begs to differ.

Here’s how your stay will look like: morning and afternoon yoga and meditation sessions, the rest of the day filled with outdoor activities – guided treks in the Arenal Volcano National Park, walks along Rio Celeste, hikes in Tenorio National Park, visits to Cerro Chato Volcano. Wait, there’s more! A safari float trip on the Peñas Blancas River, rafting the Balsa River, swimming in a lagoon and relaxing in the thermal waters of the Tabacon River will leave you feeling empowered indeed.

 

  1. 21-Day Fitness Trek and Yoga Retreat Nepal

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Who hasn’t heard the stories, seen the movies, read the books and dreamed about reaching Himalaya’s dizzying heights themselves?

Wildfire Expeditions offers yoga and adventure addicts the chance to trek a part of the famous Annapurna Circuit Route. The active retreat begins and ends in Kathmandu, and you will spend your nights in Nepal’s capital, in Pokhara and at different teahouses along the route.

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Trekking Annapurna – Photo by Sung-Joo Choi

Get ready for seven days of trekking stunning trails through rhododendron forests, reaching a maximum altitude of 11,646 ft (3,550 m) in Manang village. There will be daily Hatha yoga sessions – sunrise yoga to fire up the core and evening practices will relax and stretch your legs after your walk. You will hike the foothills of Annapurna, passing through ancient villages and orchards, visiting Buddhist temples and watching incredible sunsets, all the while gazing at the snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Immerse yourself in Nepal’s traditions and culture during this 10-day trekking and yoga retreat in Nepal. Tone your body and mind, boost your metabolism and enrich your spirit. 

 Yoga can feel pretty static at times, and there’s nothing like an adrenaline rush in the great outdoors to restore the balance. Just remember that yoga in itself is an adventure, an endless one of self-discovery.

Author’s bio:

Octavia Drughi
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“Octavia Drughi is a travel writer for BookYogaRetreats.com. A wanderer, yogi and adventure lover, Octavia’s number one addiction is rock climbing, which she embraces as a form self-expression. To her, climbing and yoga are the dance of life itself.”

What Are the Doshas, and Why Are They Important?

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Originally written for Yogahub.ie 

What Are the Doshas??

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Some of us may have a vague inclination as to what the 3 doshas are, however it’s rare we get the opportunity to delve deeper into our individual constitution. In this series of blog posts we hope to help you understand further what it means to be a Vata, Pitta, or Kapha type, and also what this means in terms of your daily habits, tendencies, and unique composition.

The Doshas and Ayurveda

Ayurvedic medicine holds that each of the three doshas is a dominant force of energy which circulates the body and determines our physiological activity. Each Vata, Pitta, and Kapha manifest themselves differently in terms of our temperment, physical constitution, and general disposition, while also determining extremity of various physical and mental disorders.

Human Condition

In his book ‘Yoga and Ayurveda‘ David Frawley outlines how our entire life and perception of existence is based upon the interplay (or ‘dance’) of the three doshas. He explains that Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are in constant motion with our internal and external environment, ensuring our continued engagement with the world around us.
Our conditions of health, disease, growth and ageing all occur as a result of or in relation to certain movements or dominance of our doshas – elements of which are present in everyone. While one dosha is always dominant in each individual, we each contain elements of all three, and it is the relationship and dynamics of co-habitation of these doshas within us that keeps us moving, keeping awareness and change within constant reach.

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Once a Vata, Always a Vata??

Ayurveda defines people as either Vata, Pitta or Kapha according to the dominant traits of each which are present in the body, many of which occur as the result of prolonged habits, altering bodily constitution over time to mean the individual is inclined towards one dosha. It is with this understanding of the individual composition that we can understand how the dominant dosha of an individual can alter over time, and will not necessarily remain the same forever.

The Doshas and Yoga

In terms of yoga, the correct assessment of a persons’ dosha can help to ensure correct practice and outline the personalized type or style of yoga and movement which will ensure their practice provides optimal results. For instance a slow Yin or Hatha practice is often preferable for those of dominant Vata dosha, to balance their excitable, energetic and unpredictable nature. Whether mental, physical, or emotional, a yogi’s dosha relates directly back to their engagement with the elements of the world around them, and is also important in Ayurveda when determining which treatments will best suit a patient.

Balancing Our Doshas

Balancing our doshas is key to ensuring the avoidance of excesses which can result in unbalanced mental and physical constitution, and ayurvedic medicine is concerned with treatments to re-balance these upsets in stability within an individual. It’s fascinating to consider oneself in relation to the doshas and to research about what best suits our own particular type, learning how to improve elements of our physical and mental composition through ayurvedic principles, of which diet plays a large (but not solely responsible) role.

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Good and Bad

While all three doshas have strengths and positive attributes, they each also have their weaknesses, and it is through gaining a deeper understanding of these that we can enforce further measures within our own lives to achieve balance. Whether through diet, forms of physical exercise, mental stimulation or lifestyle factors, it is important to address our individual constitution according to our own needs and nobody else’s.
There are several online tests (linked below) which you can take to determine your current dominant dosha, (we’d recommend taking more than one to ensure consistent results), and over the next few weeks on the blog we’ll be outlining particular elements of each Vata, Pitta, and Kapha which will help you gain a more thorough understanding of them.

Links:

What’s My Dosha Quiz
Discover Your Dosha
Banyan Botanicals Prakriti Quiz
Yoga Journal’s What’s Your Dosha

 

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The Link Between ‘Healthy Eating’ and Yoga

The Link Between ‘Healthy Eating’ and Yoga

As the popularity of yoga grows, it seems to be accompanied by an onslaught of ‘healthy eating’ ideologies and the simultaneous rise of vegan, vegetarian, organically-conscious lifestyles.
While it may seem that every second yoga studio is now all of a sudden expanding and exhaling coffee machines, fruit juicers, tables, chairs and funky hipster tunes from the depths of their cashew-nut strewn duffel bags, the trend of new health food cafés emerging in cohorts with yoga studios (and vice versa) has far deeper-rooted sit bones than you may think.

Yoga teaches us to slowly but surely begin to allow only the positive, healthy, and beneficial thoughts and beliefs to enter into and pass through our minds. It makes sense, so, that in order to propel these thoughts into action and help our bodies manifest them outward into the world, we must enlist the help of the fuel which we take in – the catalyst for these reactions, interactions and experiences; our food.

External Influences

The food we ingest has just as much an effect on our minds and bodies as the experiences we ingest, and vice versa – the relationships we have, the environment in which we live, conversations we engage in on a daily basis, and our senses (the yogic concept of ‘Pratyahara’ explains more about this). It’s not often that these aspects are displayed in parallel to one another, and yet they are eternally intertwined and so integrally linked that we very often find ourselves feeling the effects of an imbalance in one area without being able to pinpoint exactly which or where it is.

It is precisely this awareness and ability to correctly identify where we are suffering a surplus or deficiency of energy – be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual – which yoga helps us to cultivate.

“Healthy Eating” and Yoga


The increase in popularity of veganism, vegetarianism, and health food based diets and cafés amongst yogis (a title I think it’s fair to give anyone who frequents a yoga studio on a regular basis) therefore can be seen as a means to further engage with their practice of yoga; to deepen the connection to both our bodies and minds, and to nourish all those relationships, exchanges, and actions that can only successfully be carried out when sufficiently balanced.
By ingesting naturally sourced, uncontaminated and organic foods which have not already been processed or passed through their own experiences and external influences (many mass-produced products/animals/animal-related products), we are minimising the processing and energy which our bodies and minds must expend in doing so. This and the fact that most organically-sourced products have a very nutrient-dense composition means that most (if not all) of our required daily intake can be obtained from a balanced diet of good-quality natural produce.

I’ve avoided this topic for a while as this balancing of energy is something I’ve struggled with a great deal myself, yet which has drastically improved since becoming deeply engaged with my yoga practice and observing a vegan diet. It has honestly changed my entire perception not just of veganism but of ‘healthy eating’ as an entire concept, and also made me realise that there are many reasons why more and more people are choosing to further engage with it – this link with yoga is just one of many.

Conscious Living

The fact that yoga studios are now using this branch of yogic thought to further expand their businesses and create great cafés, great food, and great atmospheres for like-minded people to socialise and communicate I see only as a good thing, serving as a great means of exposure for the yoga side of their business and if nothing else a great way to promote a healthier, more conscious lifestyle.

The Science Behind Yoga & Meditation & Their Benefits for Mental Health in Ireland

The Reluctant Enlightenment of a Nation

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Yoga and meditation are slowly becoming more and more popular and ‘acceptable’ to talk about in Ireland. This is a fact. With an increasing number of businesses, schools, and public figures jumping on the band wagon (or brightly coloured mat) and openly engaging in and speaking about the benefits of having a regular practice, it’s almost fashionable now to engage in some brief introspection…Almost. Following on from the ‘I never thought I’d tell anyone this’ mantra of recent personal-story-exposing trends on social media and the general increase in open discussions of mental health issues in Irish culture (an amazing thing in itself which should not ever be ridiculed), yoga and meditation seem to have graduated past the boundaries of speculatory ‘indie’, ‘hippie’, and ‘NFATR’ (fans of OMGWACA on Facebook will understand) kinds of ideologies and slowly but surely tiptoed quietly into the realm of ‘things-which-are-ok-to-do-now’, in our restricted and resistant-to-change Irish frame of mind.

Regardless of public opinion, my own personal practice of yoga and meditation has helped me overcome several run-ins with Illnesses Which Must Not Be Named and have benefited me far more than any visits to Doctors Who Help With The Nerves ever have, and having recently returned from a stint abroad where I qualified as a yoga teacher, this is something I now wish to share.

“But What Do The Instructions Say?!”

The need for scientific fact and validation when discussing yoga and meditation with peers and ‘non-believers’, as various advanced yogis have lightheartedly described them, is ultimately an obstacle we as yoga practitioners and teachers have already and regularly face everyday in the world around us, not just in Ireland – and that’s ok too. Knowing how closed off and resistant to change older generations and Irish society as a whole has been over the years, it makes sense that people need Solid Facts, followed by A Radio Discussion and That Ad With The Lad in the Hoodie before openly entertaining anything remotely personal as a real and pressing issue or concept. But this is how we are, and part of the teachings of yoga enable us to acknowledge this unfortunate tendency and use it to progress forwards, instead of hindering our path.

“Ah. Right, ok. I see. Mmm.”

For what it’s worth, researchers in Harvard University (yep, the really famous, really prestigious one in America) conducted a three-month experiment a few years ago with participants who had been experiencing particularly high levels of emotional distress (me nerves!) to determine the effects of a regular yoga and meditation practice. A control group continued their normal daily routine, while another group were required to participate in group yoga and meditation classes three times weekly.
Easy community service, you’re thinking? Maybe, but let’s continue.
From improved mood and physical functioning to increased awareness and concentration, the group of yoga-attendees noted numerous positive effects of the experiment, with depression scores reducing by 50%, anxiety by 30%, and overall wellbeing by 65% (I promise I won’t mention Those Words again). Another Harvard study references yoga’s ability to ‘regulate the stress response system’, decreasing levels of cortisol in the bloodstream while increasing oxygen levels and bringing the often invisible effects of yoga and meditation to the physical body. By learning to recognise and acknowledge thoughts, emotions and sensations as they occur and slowing down long enough to really process their significance, meditation when combined with yoga can enhance our ability to exercise an element of control over our minds and bodies. After all, they do say that ‘meditation is for the mind what exercise is for the body’. Combining it with yoga then surely is a win-win??

“The Young Ones Would Never Sit Still”

This school in America’s genius move to replace detention with meditation is also a testament to just how far along we’ve come in terms of accepting it as a conventional and almost required element of our lives, I mean, if they’re letting the kids do it now it must be alright, surely?!

After all, it’s just basic neuroscience really. (‘Neurowhat??”)
Noticing the tendencies and pathways our thoughts take and over time building up the strength and resilience to alter them and repeatedly steer them away from the negative ones, in favour of positive and beneficial habits is in simple terms what these practices help us to achieve. It’s been noted that yoga and meditation strengthen our ability to form these neural pathways, and while modern neuroscientists and
psychologists agree, still we’re met with scoffing and raised eyebrows when we announce we’re off for a quick meditation before the family dinner to mentally prepare our carefully balanced and cared for psyches for the onslaught of dubious questioning and ridiculous weather discussions about to occur.

“But Sure, Can You Not Just Go For a Walk?

Having already encountered those who challenge my new interest and choice of career-path, not with outright contradictory comments but with dubious speculation of where, how, and in what frame of mind I’ve spent the past year of my life, I wrote this article out of amused frustration that we as a nation still seem embarrassed to entertain the idea that meditation and yoga can actually drastically improve lives.
Are drastically improving lives, present tense.
By clearing out the space previously reserved in our minds for anxiety and The Things We Don’t Tell Anyone and god forbid What Would Happen If The Neighbours Found Out, a kind of spaciousness and lightness becomes available to us. It’s this space and lightness that we as Irish people have been shunted from one claustrophobic classroom to another overcrowded and overpopulated living room for generations not knowing. It simply wasn’t there to be experienced. So naturally, we shy away from it – from anything unfamiliar. It has become part of society.

“That Bressie Fella Is Very Handsome, Anyway”

We’ve only just started to talk about mental health issues, and so it follows that solutions to these issues will presumably (hopefully) follow the naturally delayed and reluctant Irish inclination to face them. The enlightenment of a nation takes time.

Those of us who’ve given it a shot already will just be here meditating til it gets there.

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How Yoga Can Enhance Creativity and Productivity, in Business or Otherwise

“I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind’ – the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl’ – Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s often been observed that a regular yoga practice can help promote a more productive and efficient work ethic, allowing practitioners to excel in their various specialised fields and carry out work with a clearer, more focused mind. It’s a mark of a good business man or woman to possess a natural spark or flare for creativity, allowing them to stay on top of trends and aware of competition, and it is this spark which must be nurtured by a consistent base and supply of healthy energy to succeed. In this case, we’ll consider that nurturing care and careful maintenance in terms of a yoga practice, and the spark a focused idea or task which requires certain circumstances to come to light.

When this focus and clarity is added to an already creative and highly-active mind its potential becomes magnified, as the existing creative energy can be harnessed correctly and more efficiently directed solely towards creative output, whereas before it may have been scattered elsewhere. The ‘monkey mind’ of overactive imagination and the ‘creative’ individual is successfully directed to a single task or idea at a time, instead of flitting momentarily from one to another and ultimately failing to produce anything worthwhile. This way, a smaller number of tasks or ideas get realised to their full potential, instead of a handful of incomplete or unfinished ‘maybe’ or ‘what if’ ideas being dropped half-heartedly along the way. Patanjali describes this focus in the Yoga Sutra as nirodha, a particular state of mental activity and function, characterized by consistent directed attention, and ceasing to identify with negative or damaging practices.

Yoga helps us to sit with our thoughts and ideas, focusing upon them as they come and go. We learn resilience, we learn persistence, and we learn how to recognise thoughts for the truth and potential they contain. It is this belief in our own potential and capacity to carry out tasks and fulfill ideas which allows them to come to fruition, and through a strong physical and mental core built up through our yoga practice, we have a stable foundation upon which to build them.

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Several asanas and inversions, such as Sirsasana (headstand) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), are believed to enhance creativity and promote a healthy, productive brain, as they reverse the blood flow, relieve anxiety and present us physically with new perspectives. This activity can be beneficial in shaking up the often static office scenario we have become accustomed to in today’s working world, and allowing a new outlook to be explored in relation to pending issues. In this way, productivity and creativity in business can be approached differently, posing potential for further exploration and unique endeavours. In Cambodia last year I met a successful corporate business owner just after she had completed a yoga teacher training, and her initial response to my queries of whether she was going to leave that world behind completely was one of refreshing balance and reality – she told me she’d continue to manage her business and workforce, whilst teaching part-time, using her yoga practice to compliment her successful business and office routine. With its leader more balanced, centered, and productive, the entire business thrived and received inspiration and support stemming from this one woman’s own strength. It really does start that deep.

Justin Micheal Williams, musician, yoga instructor, and co-founder of The Business of Yoga has outlined how Sirsasana often helps him escape from creative ruts or blocks, allowing him to see things from a new perspective and return to his current task or creative endeavour with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Justin is just one of the millions of other artists and creative entrepreneurs who use yoga as a means of maintaining this temper-mental and unreliable creative energy, though many may not quite understand just how or why it has this effect. Sadie Nardini is another established yoga teacher, wellness coach and musician who has successfully recognised this energy and harnessed it to help achieve her creative goals. Having suffered severe illnesses in her youth, Sadie has described how she had a unique insight into the damaging effects of suffering from a severe lack of any kind of energy entirely. In her recovery and discovery of yoga, this energy returned with a new vitality. In learning to harness it, she has since established herself as a successful yoga teacher, wellness coach, and recently written, recorded and released a solo album, ‘Salt & Bone”.

As a creative individual myself, I have found since beginning and maintaining a regular yoga practice that my writing, musical, and other creative endeavours have succeeded altogether more thoroughly than they ever have before. And it’s not just the creative; all aspects of my life requiring an attention span lasting longer than a cup of coffee have improved. I have a newfound awareness and appreciation for my energy, and have learnt how to successfully delegate it to things, thoughts, activities and practices that will positively benefit me and my talents. Combined with a healthy, yogic diet and a particular emphasis on ensuring I get enough sleep every night, my energy and productivity has never been stronger. Mental, physical, spiritual…I now fully understand how intricately it is all intertwined!
In taming my own ‘monkey mind’ through my yoga practice, I have learned valuable crowd control. The ‘crowd’ in this sense being my thoughts; the anxieties that trample over one another on a daily basis if left unmonitored and uncared for. Although I’m not (yet!) a business owner, founder of a groundbreaking new company, or even secure in a well-paid office job, learning to delegate my energy to completely and fully realise creative endeavours has provided me with a similar sensation of fulfillment and satisfaction as I imagine those who have succeeded in other fields achieve. Creativity, productivity, and persistence are key to realising any business venture and maintenance, and they just happen to be some of the countless benefits a regular yoga practice can help you achieve.

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Yoga For Creativity & Connection, and Why I Want to Teach

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The Yogabarn, Ubud, Bali

CONNECTION and communication lie at the heart of all our experiences and have profound influence on the way we live our lives.
Humans are sociable creatures – we THRIVE on interaction with others. Yet because of this we often lose touch and suffer miscommunication with the one most important relationship any of us have – our relationship with ourselves.
By helping others to see this and to subsequently address the way they treat themselves and put it into practice, we contribute to their overall wellbeing and as such (in the long term), to society as a whole. This is why I want to be a yoga teacher.

I love to talk, to explore new ideas and places, and most of all, I love to connect. I see connection and interaction as the single most important means of attaining fulfillment, of enjoyment and progressing forwards, and of existing within our ever-evolving and increasingly isolating society.

I have passion. I have buckets of this undirected enthusiasm, dedication, and drive that is waiting to be deposited somewhere relevant; somewhere it can be made matter. I have so much potential to contribute to something amazing – and I am aware that I have the ability to do so. Yoga has provided me with the tools to believe this, and to direct this energy correctly; to channel it effectively in order for me to succeed in my creative pursuits, thus rendering my ‘passions’ (which have always existed) somehow more relevant. It has allowed me to glean an in-depth understanding into the way my own mind and body works, and instead of frantically trying to escape or change this – to sit with, appreciate, and respect it for what it is; knotty hair and dry skin included. For within the external imperfections there lies a potential that is just waiting to grab the next wave of opportunity when I’m feeling inspired or enthusiastic or energised. It’s always there, just lying low until I tap into it through my yoga practice.

I am also aware that many others like me possess this potential, and seek direction and guidance for which to do so too. This is another reason I wish to teach. The overwhelming tragedy of ideas and inspiration and unrealised potential being wasted on anxiety and circumstantial or locational misery is honestly very saddening to me, and I wish to aid this creativity and potential, however small, however ‘irrelevant’ or trivial it may seem, to come into being. Everything deserves to be given a chance. So do you.

In channeling my creativity through the energy and focus I achieve from practicing yoga, I have been able to increase my dedication, output, and potential for further exploration of these ideas. It’s not all going to come at once, but I’ve come far enough now to notice the difference between what I achieve on a day when I’ve done my yoga practice and a day when I haven’t.

Connection strengthens us all, and when you’ve included and taken into account your own self within that mainframe of responsibilities and polite interaction, the potential created becomes endless.

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The unpictured side of yogaclass in Ubud…shoes everywhere!

Yoga for Self-Esteem and Confidence – Calming ‘Wilder Minds’

“If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place” – Eckhart Tolle
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Yoga has so many health benefits that it only takes a glance at the nearest stand of ‘wellness’ magazines to list enough to fill a copybook – and all would be legitimate fact.
While ‘confidence’ is quite a broad term that differs in intensity and necessity from person to person and job sphere to job sphere, I think it’s widely agreed that it remains a fairly common trait of any ‘successful’ or content person who has been classed as ‘doing well’ in their lives or career pursuits.
Ew. I hate that phrase.
Really we’re all ‘doing well’ just by still being here and getting up to give things another shot when they go wrong, but unfortunately a lot of people still don’t see it that way.

A regular yoga practice is something that I have found to be of more benefit to my overall health and wellbeing than any diet, any crash-gym course or forced training-schedule, any well-established therapy or doctor, or intermittent variants of all of the above (and believe me, I’ve tried it all!). In coming to meet myself on the mat every day, for whatever length of time my mind and body is able to commit to it at a given time, (and not fretting too much if a few minutes is all I can manage!), I am greeting myself as a new acquaintance, and as such I am automatically polite and accepting.
Because here’s the deal;
I’m not a rude person. I like to think I’m not, anyway. I think we all strive for that in some deep-rooted, morally driven and sensible elder inside us. In greeting myself as I would any new stranger – a simple smile, nod of the head, and handshake (or air-kisses like the French do!) I am accepting fully the being that presents itself to me in that single moment. There is nothing I can change, and no power with which to do so – and that is perfectly ok.

In fact, it is amazing. It’s a freedom and liberation so strengthening that when you finally achieve it for yourself and accept your own reflection, limitations, talents, and situation for what they are, suddenly a whole space is opened up in your head that was previously filled with needless anxieties and personal limitations; unrealistic beliefs and ‘magical thinking’. There’s time to do things again you previously forgot you loved- there’s time to sing! To write! There’s energy and the belief with which to invest in these pleasures!
Hey there, confidence! Where’ve you been hiding?

 The result of this newfound self-awareness and acceptance is not merely ‘confidence’ in the traditional sense that is understood which allows you to be daring, take risks and be the first to do everything. It’s an internal strength – a sense that no matter where you go or what you encounter, you will be able to handle it. You will get through it. Life will go on. It’s not just the belief in this, but the knowledge of it as fact. The strong physical core resulting from a regular yoga practice forms as a manifestation of the strength in the mind; this confident, calm, and grounded version of a person who previously couldn’t decide what colour socks to wear without panicking. Guess what? Now she can hold a headstand for an entire minute and still feel great afterwards!
Take that, anxiety!
In sitting with physical stretches and challenges, the mental ones become easier to manage and recognise. To stretch out and observe patiently when they occur, instead of jumbling them all off in a ball and chasing them away on a treadmill.

 

“Who Let The Birds Out?”

 

 

The most concrete memory I have from when I was smaller than the kitchen counter for some reason occurred to me again today, and I was struck with a realization so profound that I’m still reeling from it.

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Once upon a time, there were 5 or 6 yellow, fluffy, and sweetly-singing ‘birdies’ twittering about cheerfully in a cage on a wall. It was a time before tweeting became a silent and isolated online method of gaining false praise and fans, and the noise alone could lighten your heart and brighten your day – until of course you realized that the notes were caged and these birdies may as well have been empty- tweeting without an attention-grabbing hashtag or tag symbol to be seen. They were voiceless.

The cage was quite small (even to me as a 2-3 year old). It hung on a wall that divided the old ‘side garden’ from the ‘main garden’, or our permitted ‘playing’ area, and functioned as a distraction from the forbidden ‘side-gate’ and escape to the main road outside (in a perfectly safe suburban housing estate).

One day, I vividly remember staring up at the birds. I was still FAR shorter than where it hung fastened to the wall, having only just passed the point of needing to be lifted up to poke pudgy fingers between the bars in futile attempts to hold the poor creatures.

This particular day, that was all I wanted. I clearly remember the innocence with which I stared longingly at my ‘pets’. The poor caged creatures; evolved to fly, yet held back by metal bars. I was too young to comprehend this injustice of course, but my intent was simple and clear – to hold one in my hands, and see if the fluffy yellow down was as soft and comforting as it appeared.

Like my friends could pet their dogs. Unlike most kids were allowed to do – I simply couldn’t hold, touch, or interact with my ‘pet’ whatsoever.

So I reached up.

I’d watched my Dad replace their food and water enough times to understand how to open the door.

POOF. A whoosh of air, tweets and feathers about my outstretched arm, and suddenly I was running inside.

‘WHO LET THE BIRDS OUT?”

I had quickly pushed the door of the cage closed and made myself scarce. I knew I’d done wrong. But I somehow didn’t feel guilty about it.

When the empty cage was noticed, I denied knowing anything about the curious disappearance. But as sure as any bird will fly when given the chance, my 3-year-old wobbly chin dimpled, whimpered, and gave me away as I feared for my ice-cream after dinner. I like to think it was to do with an ingrained honesty and incapacity to lie within me, but the truth was as childishly greedy as this, and all I was thinking about was the restriction of my dessert.

I cried like a baby…because that’s what I was.

I cried not out of guilt, nor at the loss of my pets. I cried because I had attracted trouble. I had attracted anger, frustration, and inadvertently made myself the target and origin of the negativity.

When I think about this on a deeper level, and in terms of what little life experience I have now to date, I find it incredible, and extremely telling:

 

My earliest memory is of releasing caged birds.

 

Quite literally, letting nature into its natural habitat, and releasing innocent creatures to a life they were born for, instead of caged in a garden, a house…it really does say a lot about me, and about my successes and failures to date.

I never properly believed in the influences of childhood events, environments, and seemingly unimportant occurrences in the past on issues and problems experienced today, yet when I consider this memory and the events which followed in context to today, and how the me of today would deal with them as opposed to how I dealt with them then, I can fully believe that we are the products of our environment. Mannerisms, practices, and personalities to which we are exposed as children become part of us far more easily than those we may attempt to adapt later on in life. Because they are our first experiences, our first time to encounter life events in a certain way….we come to believe that the way they are dealt with then is the ONLY way to deal with them. Anger breeds anger. Anxiety breeds anxiety. Paranoia breeds paranoid and obsessive thought patterns, damaging only when you realize just how much they have influenced you up until now. How much time I have wasted worrying about things that didn’t really matter; anxious to improve, to always be the best, to come out on top, because even though ‘we’ll love you whatever the result’, there was always a larger bowl of ice-cream for whoever came out on top.